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Expanding the 352nd Special Operations Group
 
Report and Photography by Ashley Wallace

On the 26th July 2013, Touchdown Aviation were invited to join the 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall to have a detailed look at there brand new airframes, the CV-22B Osprey and the MC-130J Commando II, as the Group begin a major expansion and modernisation programme.

On the 24th June 2013, the 352nd SOG welcomed the first two of ten CV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (11-0057 and 11-0058). The remaining eight Ospreys are scheduled to arrive by the end of 2014 with the next batch of two due in September, then a batch of three in February 2014 and the final batch of three arriving in August 2014, while the MC-130J inventory is scheduled to take up to five years to complete - this marks the initial beginning of a major expansion programme at the base which will allow the two squadrons to continue to work together while taking full advantage of the more modernised equipment and additional personnel.

The 352nd Special Operations Group is made up of a total of five different squadrons:

  • The 352nd Special Operations Support Squadron
  • The 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron
  • The 321st Special Tactics Squadron
  • The 7th Special Operations Squadron
  • The 67th Special Operations Squadron
The latter two being the only two flying squadrons. The Commander of the 352nd SOG, Colonel Christopher Ireland said, "The expansion is just the beginning of the next chapter which has really been a 70 year history of American aviation in East Anglia and the United Kingdom." He goes on to say, "Last summer as we started this growth transition we had around 780 military personnel, by next summer, two years on, we are looking to almost be around 1200 total." This is not only good for the base but it brings a change and an increase for the local surrounding areas around Mildenhall. Colonel Ireland went on to say "We are welcoming back vertical airlift to Special Operations Forces in Europe. It's been almost 6 years since we've had it here in Europe and this modernisation of the force improves our efficiency and effectiveness."
 
CV-22B Osprey - 11-0057 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   CV-22B Osprey - 11-0060 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   CV-22B Osprey - 11-0057 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   CV-22B Osprey - 11-0057 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
CV-22B Osprey - 11-0058 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   CV-22B Osprey - 11-0058 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   CV-22B Osprey - 11-0059 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   CV-22B Osprey - 11-0057 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
The 7th Special Operations Squadron nicknamed "Aircommandos" currently operate the MC-130H Combat Talon II and now the CV-22B Osprey, executing night, adverse weather, long-range operations into hostile environments. Alongside these missions the squadron also plays an important role in supporting non combat evacuation and humanitarian relief. To be able to carry out these missions the Combat Talon IIs and Ospreys are employed using a combination of terrain-following, high precision radar, avionic sensors and electronic countermeasures. The 7th SOS will receive a total of ten CV-22B Ospreys which will stand up alongside the current MC-130H Combat Talon IIs - once the CV-22 capability is fully stood up, the MC-130Hs will eventually depart Europe and be re-distributedto other units within the United States Air Force. The CV-22B Osprey combines the vertical takeoff, hover and vertical landing qualities of a helicopter with the long-range fuel efficiency and speed of a turbo prop aircraft - effectively performing missions that would require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. It was initially rumoured that the 21st Special Operations Group was re-activating and standing up with the CV-22 after the squadron lost its MH-53M Pave Low IVs in 2007 - this isn't the case and the CV-22s are most definitely being operated by the 7th SOS.
 
CV-22B Osprey - 11-0059 - 7 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
The other flying squadron within the 352nd Special Operations Group is the 67th Special Operations Squadron nicknamed the "Night Owls" that operate the ageing MC-130P Combat Shadow. The squadron is replacing the vulnerable Combat Shadow in stride with the MC-130J Commando II. With the first two MC-130P Combat Shadows departing RAF Mildenhall for the Boneyard in Tucson, the first MC-130J (10-5714) was delivered to the 67th SOS on the 7th June with the second airframe (09-6210) which isn't actually a 67th delivery but just a loan airframe owned by Lockheed Martin being used purely for a ground loading and maintenance trainer - once all training is complete this airframe will return to Cannon AFB in New Mexico. The MC-130J is a huge leap forward in technology and is significantly different to its predecessor the MC-130P, it has an all glass flight deck with two heads up displays for both the pilot and co-pilot. It also has the capability to go further at a quicker pace, climbs higher faster and consumes less fuel. A huge thanks go to RAF Mildenhall and the 352nd Public Affairs for inviting Touchdown-Aviation, without them this report would not have been possible.
 
MC-130J Commando II  - 11-5737 - 67 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   MC-130J Commando II - 11-5733 - 67 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   MC-130J Commando II  - 09-6210 - 67 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   MC-130P Combat Shadow  - 64-14854 - 67 Special Operations Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
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